Shortly after Jim was born, I latched onto Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs. I would listen to it all the time. I ran with it. It was my soundtrack everywhere I drove. For some reason, the album struck a chord deep within me; the part of me full of the wild fear and hope that comes with being a new parent.
I can tell you the lyrics that embody why that collection of songs seized me so. It's a couplet from "Half Light II (No Celebration)," a song that lies at nearly dead center of the album:
Oh this city's changed so much since I was a little child
Pray to God I won't live to see the death of everything's that wild
Half a decade after I first heard that, it still makes my hair stand up on end. There are times I think the latter line especially would make an excellent epitaph. The line also haunts me like a ghost. When things in my life or the world around me are amiss, I hear its chains rattle and wonder if I'm watching the wild wilt before me.
I have always heard that lyric as being about faith. About how the way I see God and the church have changed so dramatically from the days when I was young. About the ways in which I and the rest of American Christianity domesticate God into something more palpable, something easier to follow; a commodity.
I once preached a sermon in seminary where I let those lyrics play with the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The Kingdom of God is like this weed-like plant—a cousin of kudzu—that cannot be controlled or stopped. A threat to crops, the mustard seed plant would have been an uncomfortable image to the wealthy and powerful. It was the Kingdom of God in its full, wild subversiveness.
Yet I fear I am both witness and accomplice to the death of God's wildness. The loss of faith, the fear of screwing things up, the near certainty that the Christian faith in America has lost the wild redeeming love and echo of justice of the gospels fills me with dread. I pray to God that I won't live to see the death of everything that's wild and I feel like I am holding defibrillator paddles the entire time. I'll shock myself or somebody just to keep up a pulse.
Last night, I was sitting in an Ash Wednesday service at our church. I was dead tired; exhausted physically, mentally, and spiritually. I felt the strain, that pious pressure, of trying to get something out of a service that typically means so much to me. As Bailey, our pastor, gave the benediction, I glanced down to notice that the words she was speaking were not the typical sending prayer we have in church. It was an excerpt from "East Coker," a poem by T.S. Eliot:
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
What if darkness and stillness are the necessary place in between for a great scene change to emerge? What if death is the most wild thing? Or maybe more accurately, what if death is the start for the most wild? It tears through us and strips the stage bare. Then the wildness of new creation can burst forth.
When I preached my sermon on the mustard seed, I forgot what Jesus said elsewhere about seeds. About how for many more seeds to live, a seed must die. The death of the wild is written into the life of the wild. And Lent invites us to sit down in the theater of that contradiction. We have to take our seat beside our own frailty and fallenness, completely unacceptable company in our culture. Yet by the time we reach the curtain call of Easter, Jesus reminds us that life is found among that brokenness. Death leads to resurrection.
Reflecting on that grants me a modicum of faith. I would normally write "hope" there and indeed hope resides in that faith. But the Eliot poem reminds me that faith is the better word because my hope is very much tethered to what I want the outcome to be. But if I am talking about following God then safe predictions can be tossed aside for we are talking about the wild.
I am not ready to toss aside a lyric that has meant so much to me these last handful of years. I still think there is an important strain of honesty in praying to God that I don't live to see the death of everything that's wild. There's an urgency and a watchfulness to it. Yet death need not be the end. And as I go through Lent, as I remember my frailty and fallenness, as I try to follow Jesus on this journey, I want to amend that prayer. Because the wild will die off in places. My faith will change and grow and evolve. I will stumble and stagger and fall. The church will do the same thing. It will die in places even as it thrives in others. The death of the wild is an unavoidable part of things. Seeing the life in the midst of that death is the trick.
So, at least through these next 40ish days, this is my prayer: I pray to God that I'll live to see the resurrection of everything that's wild.